What is so bad about polygamy?

By Brian Earp (Follow Brian on Twitter by clicking here.)

What do gay marriage and polygamy have in common?

To find out, watch this exchange between US Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, and a New Hampshire college student.  Here’s an edit to give the gist:

Student: How about the ideas that all men are created equal, and the rights to happiness and liberty? [Applause.]

Santorum: Ok, so — Are we saying that everyone should have the right to marry?

Audience: Yes! Yes!

Santorum: Everyone? Ok, so, anybody can marry anybody else.

Audience: Yes, yes!

Santorum: So anyone can marry several people? …

Audience: No … !

Santorum: I’m just positing some things you need to think about. So if everybody has a right to be happy — so if you’re not happy unless you’re married to five other people is that OK?

Audience member: That’s not what we’re asking!

Santorum: I’m asking the question. If what you said was, every person has a right to their own happiness –

Audience member: That’s irrelevant …

Santorum: No, it’s not irrelevant.

Student: [We're talking about] the right for two men to have the same rights as a man and a woman.

Santorum: Well, what about three men?

Audience: We’re not talking about that!

This exchange is fascinating. Let’s see why. Santorum’s view is that endorsing gay marriage automatically commits one to polygamy-acceptance as well. His logic—which amounts to a reductio ad absurdum—can be spelled out in the following way:

(1) Gay marriage proponents (like those in the audience in the above exchange) hold that individuals are entitled to marry whomsoever they wish, via mutual consent, in pursuit of their own happiness. In fact, they seem to argue, this is at base the very the principle that heterosexuals implicitly enact in their own marriage arrangements. For the sake of fair treatment, then, gay individuals should be able to marry whomsoever they wish, via mutual consent, in pursuit of their own happiness, as well.

(2) But if you endorse that principle, Santorum rebuts, you are automatically committed to the position that polygamy is OK. This is because someone who wants to marry two, or three, or four, or five individuals, for the sake of their personal happiness, should also be entitled to do so — on the “marriage-in-pursuit-of-happiness” principle above — so long as each individual consents to the plan.

(3) But obviously polygamy is unacceptable and immoral and bad.

(4) So the conception of marriage that is being employed to establish a right for gay individuals to wed is too broad: it would confer a right to polygamists as well. Therefore one cannot endorse that conception of marriage; and hence the “marriage is between one man and one woman” definition stands tall, undefeated by all known challengers.

There are a number of ways to respond to Santorum. One way would be to challenge the idea that polygamy-acceptance automatically ensues from the marriage-happiness principle set out in premise (1). Another would be to deny that the principle behind gay marriage really is as simple as “everybody can marry whoever they want.” But let’s assume for now — for the sake of argument — that the principle really is that simple, and that acceptance of polygamy really is a consequence of endorsing it. Now then, I want to pursue a different line of response. I want to question premise (3).

My question is this. Why do we automatically assume that polygamy is unacceptable and immoral and bad? Why should the argumentative “buck” stop there? In the exchange above, you’ll notice that the audience keeps trying to avoid the question, stating that it’s “irrelevant” or that polygamy isn’t what they were “talking about.” Maybe they think that (2) doesn’t actually follow from (1), or they just aren’t prepared to conjure up an argument on the fly. But why shouldn’t they be “talking about” polygamy?

Let me step back. I’ve noticed that in discussions of gay marriage, some people, usually religious conservatives, try to make an argument like this. “Marriage—meaning a union between one man and one woman—is a centuries-long tradition that has to be preserved for the sake of civilization. If you try to re-define so sacred an institution in a way that would allow gay people to marry, you’ll find yourself on a slippery slope … for, then, what is to stop you from allowing polygamy??”

In these debates generally — as in the one here with Santorum — the “liberal” or “progressive” commentator will very often take issue with the first few steps in the argument. They’ll point out that the “traditional” conception of marriage is actually a recent invention—only about 200 years old—or they’ll bring up a number of fallacies in the line about “defending civilization.” They might even get so far as urging that you don’t really risk getting yourself onto a slippery slope, since “no one is trying to advocate a right for polygamists, so it’s irrelevant” — largely the tack taken by the college students in the video above. But why isn’t anyone challenging the implicit final step — the one suggesting that to permit polygamy would be anathema to all things decent and civilized?

I’m not sure I see how it is. Polygamy has long been a part our species’ history, and it’s still practiced in some parts of the world where tradition and economic considerations allow. If three people wanted to get married – or four, or five – and each individual was an adult capable of giving full consent, what exactly is the problem?

Let me be clear about what I’m suggesting. By ‘polygamy’ I mean a marriage involving more than two partners; so perhaps “group marriage” would be a clearer term. Sub-categories of polygamy include polygyny, which is the marriage of a man to multiple wives; and polyandry, which is the marriage of a female to multiple husbands. Other gender match-ups are possible too; and any combination would count on my proposal. Crucially, I’m talking about a marriage agreement to which all parties consent from the get-go.

Now, then: Where is the ethical problem? Why does premise (3) automatically give the “absurdum” in the reductio above? In other words, can someone tell me, please, what’s so bad about polygamy?

I’m open to taking your view.

See the comments section below for some good arguments about why polygamy might be problematic after all. For more thoughtful discussion on this topic, see Jean Kazez’ excellent blog here

(See a list of all of Brian’s previous posts here.)

(Follow Brian on Twitter by clicking here.)

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66 Responses to What is so bad about polygamy?

  • Dave Frame says:

    Personally I don't have an especial problem with the idea of polygamy as long as the rules are clear. I imagine the problem is when X marries Y and then X wants to marry Z, too. If Y consents to this I can't see why we should intervene. But if Y objects then there would seem to be a stumbling block. So for me a lot of it turns on what X & Y each understand by "marriage". If the exculsivity clauses ("forsaking all others", I think is what the preacher said…) bite, do they mean "forsaking those you aren't married to" or "forsaking everyone but this person"? So I think we probably need to think about what the contractual aspects of particular "marriages" seem to sanction as far as other relationships go. And that *might* be messy depending on the precise wording of various marriage vows. That seems to me quite a bit messier than the case with gay marriage (in which you could just de-gender the vows) but a I said above, "no harm, no foul", so if Y is ok with it, no problem. [I guess that would amount to giving Y a veto - that doesn't seem unreasonable to me.]

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thanks Dave — I've clarified my post based on your feedback here: the case I'm talking about might be better referred to as 'group marriage' and I mean to require the consent of all parties from the get-go in my proposal. So: let's say three people consent to get married and be loyal to each other … if the law permitted this based on our inability to think of ethical grounds for intervention (and I don't expect it would be a popular option) … do you suppose some broader bad consequence might follow for society at large? That's about the only way I can think of a justification for such an arrangement being made illegal.

    • Paul says:

      Here is what the Supreme Court of British Columbia had to say about polygamy this past November (ref. http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/11/15/2011BCSC1588.htm):

      [782] Women in polygynous relationships are at an elevated risk of physical and psychological harm. They face higher rates of domestic violence and abuse, including sexual abuse. Competition for material and emotional access to a shared husband can lead to fractious co-wife relationships. These factors contribute to the higher rates of depressive disorders and other mental health issues that women in polygynous relationships face. They have more children, are more likely to die in childbirth and live shorter lives than their monogamous counterparts. They lack reproductive autonomy, and report high rates of marital dissatisfaction and low levels of self-esteem. They also fare worse economically, as resources may be inequitably divided or simply insufficient.

      [783] Children in polygynous families face higher infant mortality, even controlling for economic status and other relevant variables. They tend to suffer more emotional, behavioural and physical problems, as well as lower educational achievement. These outcomes are likely the result of higher levels of conflict, emotional stress and tension in polygynous families. In particular, rivalry and jealousy among co-wives can cause significant emotional problems for their children. The inability of fathers to give sufficient affection and disciplinary attention to all of their children can further reduce children’s emotional security. Children are also at enhanced risk of psychological and physical abuse and neglect.

      [784] Early marriage for girls is common, frequently to significantly older men. The resultant early sexual activity, pregnancies and childbirth have negative health implications for girls and also significantly limit their socio-economic development. Shortened inter-birth intervals pose a heightened risk of problems for both mother and child.

      [785] The sex ratio imbalance inherent in polygyny means that young men are forced out of polygamous communities to sustain the ability of senior men to accumulate more wives. These young men and boys often receive limited education as a result, and must navigate their way outside their communities with few life skills and little social support.

      [786] Another significant harm to children is their exposure to, and potential internalization of, harmful gender stereotypes.

      [787] Polygyny has negative impacts on society flowing from the high fertility rates, large family size and poverty associated with the practice. It generates a class of largely poor, unmarried men who are statistically predisposed to violence and other anti-social behaviour. Polygyny also institutionalizes gender inequality. Patriarchal hierarchy and authoritarian control are common features of polygynous communities.

      [788] A great many of the foregoing effects are not limited to particular cultures or geographic locations; they are universal. Dr. McDermott’s statistical analysis of polygyny reveals that throughout the world, women in polygynous societies sustain more physical and sexual abuse. They have more children, are more likely to die in childbirth and live shorter lives than their monogamous counterparts. They are more likely to be subject to sex trafficking and genital mutilation. They receive less equal treatment than men and encounter more discrimination under the law.

      [789] Girls are less likely to be educated, restricting a key factor allowing for upward mobility and economic independence. Up to half of the boys in highly polygynous societies are ejected from their communities with incalculable negative effects.

      [790] Individuals in polygynous societies tend to have fewer civil liberties than their counterparts in societies which prohibit the practice. Polygynous states spend more on defence on average, leaving fewer resources for domestic infrastructure and projects geared toward health and education.

      [791] Moving closer to home, these harms are consistent with what clinical experts in North America have observed in their patients from polygynous backgrounds. Dr. Beall spoke of PTSD and other mental health conditions in his patients from fundamentalist Mormon communities. Dr. Stickevers’ Muslim patients in polygynous relationships had higher rates of depression and anxiety and lower levels of self-esteem than her monogamously married patients. Dr. Hassouneh’s Muslim patients had similar symptoms.

      [792] The evidence of the witnesses who recounted their personal experiences living in polygynous families put a human face on many of the harms identified by the experts and in the social science literature. To be fair, some of these witnesses related positive experiences with polygyny. However, their accounts stand against the overwhelming weight of the evidence that polygyny has harmful consequences for both the individuals involved and the societies of which they are a part.

      [793] Finally, the evidence relating to Bountiful reveals higher rates of teen pregnancy, the movement of young girls between the community and the United States for the purpose of marriage, and poorer educational outcomes.

      • Brynneth says:

        But all of that data was collected and based on one community that was causing a particular set of problems. That's a religious group, practicing a very strict form of polygamy: one man, multiple subservient wives. The abusive, dangerous situation for the women and children would be present even if polygamy weren't part of their religious behavior. Abuse is illegal, they just happen to practice polygamy as well. That data has nothing to do with modern, non-religious and, or religious but not crazy, poly people. They have to keep their heads down and tend not to be noticed while the crazies get all the attention. There are far more non-insane type poly people than the people who get attention in Bountiful and Utah, but they end up being lumped in with them by default because they're just quietly living their lives, not causing any problems.

      • Blaise F Egan says:

        It’s hard to judge the empirical evidence about polygamy as much of it is confounded with certain types of repressive religious upbringing. Some of the harmful effects listed above can be mitigated. The welfare of children should be the first priority. So, for example, if the children’s education is at risk there might be laws requiring a minimum level of schooling.

  • Eric says:

    John Cornyn famously presented a closely related slippery slope argument about gay marriage when he claimed that allowing gay marriage would lead to human marriages to animals. This argument was skewered nicely by the Daily Show:

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-july-14-2004/the-boys-in-the-ban

    My best guess as to the reason people find so much wrongness in polygamy is that it seems to be hard to fathom an equal commitment between X, Y, and Z in the same way that X and Y can commit. But, of course, you always simply have an extramarital affair (which is very much akin to polygamy in a lot of ways) to avoid any creepiness.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thanks Eric — I enjoyed the Stewart piece (as I very often do…)

      I think you're right that people find something "creepy" about polygamy; and I expect that it probably IS harder, on balance, to sustain a workable commitment among three or more people compared to two (it's hard enough with two, as we all know) … But I don't see the logical step from "commitments between more than two people might be hard, and are seen as creepy" to "such commitments are morally wrong and should be legally prohibited."

      Best,
      Brian

      • Franklin Veaux says:

        There are a few things that need to be kept in mind when addressing whether or not polygamy is (a) creepy or (b) hard to sustain.

        The first is that when most people hear the word "polygamy," what they think of is polygyny–one man with many wives. It is very rare for people to hear "polygamy" and think of a woman with several husbands, or a mix of men and women who consider one another spouses. This is likely where a lot of the "creepy" response comes in.

        A system whereby men can marry many women but women are forbidden to marry many men inherently creates problems. It creates a surplus of unweddable men; if the number of men and women is roughly equal, then for every man with two wives there is a man with no wives, assuming that those wives are faithful.

        It also leads to a social system where, economically, women become commodities. Having wives becomes a measure of status; women, denied equal access to the institution of marriage as men, become second-class citizens.

        Countering the concept that polygamy must mean polygyny tends, in my experience, to do a lot to de-fang the "creepy" response that a lot of folks have. It doesn't completely eliminate it, of course; it has been my observation that many folks, when considering polygamy, will mentally try on the idea, imagining themselves in a situation in which their lover has other partners, and that this will often provoke feelings of insecurity, jealousy, poor self-esteem, or other negative responses, and that's where some of the "creepy" response comes from. But addressing specifically the notion that polygamy must mean polygyny is a start.

        The notion that polygamy is wrong and must be prohibited is easy to justify if the assumption is that polygamy means polygyny, as it's fairly easy to point to substantial harm done to women in polygynous cultures. The "it makes me feel insecure" part is icing on the cake–it's not uncommon for people to think of things which trigger negative emotions as being morally wrong.

        As for the idea that it's harder to sustain three working relationships than it is two, I have not found that to be the case at all, and I've been functionally non-monogamous my entire life. I think it's better to say that it's difficult to be in a relationship system that goes against one's inclinations than in one that matches them. Monogamy has never made sense to me, even as a very young child. I choose partners who feel the same way, and as a result I am in several long-term relationships that have outlasted some of our friends' marriages.

        Whether or not relationships in general are difficult is a different issue entirely. I believe they are not. I think that developing the skills it takes to be a decent relationship partner–honesty, integrity, communication, self-knowledge, introspection, compassion, expectation management, and so on–is hard, and requires work…but once a person develops those skills, relationships themselves are easy.

  • B T says:

    Here is what the Supreme Court of British Columbia had to say about polygamy this past November (ref. http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/11/15/2011BCSC1588.htm):

    [782] Women in polygynous relationships are at an elevated risk of physical and psychological harm. They face higher rates of domestic violence and abuse, including sexual abuse. Competition for material and emotional access to a shared husband can lead to fractious co-wife relationships. These factors contribute to the higher rates of depressive disorders and other mental health issues that women in polygynous relationships face. They have more children, are more likely to die in childbirth and live shorter lives than their monogamous counterparts. They lack reproductive autonomy, and report high rates of marital dissatisfaction and low levels of self-esteem. They also fare worse economically, as resources may be inequitably divided or simply insufficient.

    [783] Children in polygynous families face higher infant mortality, even controlling for economic status and other relevant variables. They tend to suffer more emotional, behavioural and physical problems, as well as lower educational achievement. These outcomes are likely the result of higher levels of conflict, emotional stress and tension in polygynous families. In particular, rivalry and jealousy among co-wives can cause significant emotional problems for their children. The inability of fathers to give sufficient affection and disciplinary attention to all of their children can further reduce children’s emotional security. Children are also at enhanced risk of psychological and physical abuse and neglect.

    [784] Early marriage for girls is common, frequently to significantly older men. The resultant early sexual activity, pregnancies and childbirth have negative health implications for girls and also significantly limit their socio-economic development. Shortened inter-birth intervals pose a heightened risk of problems for both mother and child.

    [785] The sex ratio imbalance inherent in polygyny means that young men are forced out of polygamous communities to sustain the ability of senior men to accumulate more wives. These young men and boys often receive limited education as a result, and must navigate their way outside their communities with few life skills and little social support.

    [786] Another significant harm to children is their exposure to, and potential internalization of, harmful gender stereotypes.

    [787] Polygyny has negative impacts on society flowing from the high fertility rates, large family size and poverty associated with the practice. It generates a class of largely poor, unmarried men who are statistically predisposed to violence and other anti-social behaviour. Polygyny also institutionalizes gender inequality. Patriarchal hierarchy and authoritarian control are common features of polygynous communities.

    [788] A great many of the foregoing effects are not limited to particular cultures or geographic locations; they are universal. Dr. McDermott’s statistical analysis of polygyny reveals that throughout the world, women in polygynous societies sustain more physical and sexual abuse. They have more children, are more likely to die in childbirth and live shorter lives than their monogamous counterparts. They are more likely to be subject to sex trafficking and genital mutilation. They receive less equal treatment than men and encounter more discrimination under the law.

    [789] Girls are less likely to be educated, restricting a key factor allowing for upward mobility and economic independence. Up to half of the boys in highly polygynous societies are ejected from their communities with incalculable negative effects.

    [790] Individuals in polygynous societies tend to have fewer civil liberties than their counterparts in societies which prohibit the practice. Polygynous states spend more on defence on average, leaving fewer resources for domestic infrastructure and projects geared toward health and education.

    [791] Moving closer to home, these harms are consistent with what clinical experts in North America have observed in their patients from polygynous backgrounds. Dr. Beall spoke of PTSD and other mental health conditions in his patients from fundamentalist Mormon communities. Dr. Stickevers’ Muslim patients in polygynous relationships had higher rates of depression and anxiety and lower levels of self-esteem than her monogamously married patients. Dr. Hassouneh’s Muslim patients had similar symptoms.

    [792] The evidence of the witnesses who recounted their personal experiences living in polygynous families put a human face on many of the harms identified by the experts and in the social science literature. To be fair, some of these witnesses related positive experiences with polygyny. However, their accounts stand against the overwhelming weight of the evidence that polygyny has harmful consequences for both the individuals involved and the societies of which they are a part.

    [793] Finally, the evidence relating to Bountiful reveals higher rates of teen pregnancy, the movement of young girls between the community and the United States for the purpose of marriage, and poorer educational outcomes.

    • Brian Earp says:

      These are very interesting data — thank you so much for sharing them. I wonder, though: most of the data here concern specifically polygynous marriages, and the way they are practiced in communities governed by polygyny as the predominant marriage philosophy … It might be that in such communities, compared to communities in which monogamy is the dominant marriage philosophy, these various negative things are likelier to occur … But what if polygamy were legal in a culturally monogamous society as in the U.S. … so long as all parties consented to the marriage — maybe even in full knowledge of the increased risks for negative consequences – is there an ethical argument for prohibiting their ability to do so? Very often adults will consent to behavior which carries a risk if they deem it conducive to their own happiness … the question I have is not – are polygamous societies, in general, bearers of negative outcomes in relationships compared to monogamous societies; but rather, what is morally wrong with more than two people agreeing to form an exclusive bond with one another, and why should it be illegal? Surely if it were legal in the US, the US would not suddenly turn into a "polygynous society" … or would it?

  • Hyhybt says:

    It's irrelevant because they are separate questions. That an argument for one can also be used to support the other does not automatically mean there are no other reasons to oppose the latter. If the proposal were to raise the speed limit from 55 to 65, and you jumped up and said "but then we'd have to let people drive on either side of the road," you'd expect to be laughed at. Yet the same jump in logic gets a pass when applied to marriage laws.

    I don't oppose polygamy, exactly. I do believe that, unlike gay marriage, there are complications that would need to be addressed first: how to make it fair to all participants, how to handle things like who makes your medical decisions when you're incapacitated and your wives disagree, etc. And I'm quite sure that each person added makes having a successful marital relationship among them more difficult. But go ahead, if you want. Just work all the bugs out first.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thank you Hyhybt — I think you're right to point out that just because a principal can lend support to X and also Y, does not mean that there are not independent reasons to reject Y while still dignifying the principle (and its support of X). My goal was simply to question the supposedly self-evident absurdity of polygamy in a reductio argument like the one used by Santorum. There are other ways to defeat his argument, of course, and you bring up one way.

  • Jim Harris says:

    One could make the argument that polygamy would lead to less stable societies and is therefore detrimental to the common good. Let me explain. For every "additional" wife that a man marries (I'll ignore the multiple husbands variant), there is another man who will go wifeless. If Brad Pitt or Michael Jordan potentially have ten wives (which they could easily support financially and I don't think there would be a shortage of takers) there are nine "normal" men who statistically are now destined to be confirmed bachelors. Over time, one can foresee a situation where just like wealth, marriage concentrates at the top of the socioeconomic spectrum. Occupy Wall Street would pale in comparison to the civil unrest generated by a significant portion of our male population that has little or no prospects to marry and have a family.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thank you, Jim!! This is just the sort of argument I was looking for — I think you make a good case that while some individual case of polygyny (the male/multiple-female variant of polygamy) might not be ethically problematic; its widespread adoption in a society might be detrimental to the common good … and that heading off such a possibility by making it strictly illegal may be justified on those grounds. Thank you for this insight.

    • Franklin Veaux says:

      That's an argument against polygyny, but not actually an argument against a polygamous society in which both men and women are afforded the opportunity to have multiple partners. In short, the argument works ONLY if you ignore women with multiple husbands–and I don't think you can do that.

    • Raveningdesk says:

      Jim, I think your argument is interesting, not least because there are a dearth of arguments which are actually aimed at polgamy in principle rather than polgyny (either in principle or practice), or merely unsupported and/or unsupportable claims like "it's unnatural" or "it's impossible to love two people". However I don't think it holds good, I'll try and elucidate why with three comments:

      1. Firstly, I think the emphasis in this whole discussion has been inadvertently but wrongly couched in terms of "an individual takes many spouses", which makes it seem like there is one partner who makes the ultimate marriage decision and accumulates spouses, leading to your worry. We should remember that the kind of relationship structures we are talking about here cannot always be defined in terms of relations to a single individual, for example the following: A has only one partner B, B has two partners A and C, C has two partners B and D and D has one partner A. (this is sometimes called an "N-geometry for obvious reasons). No one partner is exclusively having multiple marriages, but all parties involved can have the spouses they want*. Now if we apply this to your potential situation, each of the ten wives would be able to marry others, so rather than reduce the number of potential spouses it actually statistically increases them because people who are already married are no longer ruled out. You could say that for example wealthy people could use their money as a lure or a threat to stop their spouses remarrying, but then it would be this (abusive and unfair) behaviour that's at fault, not polygamy in general, though it does lead nicely to my next point:

      2: What is to stop wealthy individuals from accruing partners as things are? As you mentioned there is no shortage of potential partners or resources for them, and even if they couldn't marry them they would certainly be capable of having ten partners be with them alone (probably by mutual consent too) and therefore remove them from the possibility of marrying others. The reason the doomsday scenario you described doesn't obtain is that the wealthy don't all want to hoard partners (though I'd say it's probable some do in fact do so), not that marriage law is holding them back.

      3: What we are talking about here is making it legal for everyone to marry as many people as they want to, so the dejected people rallying would have to be people whom nobody wants to marry. I sincerely hope nobody would want to suggest that any person should ever be forced to marry someone they don't want to marry. I also strongly reject the implicit proposition that there are vast numbers of romantic partnerships which only exist because one or both partners' celebrity of choice can currently only marry one person. In fact it is one of the key propositions of polyamoury/ polygamy, to wit, that people are capable of having romantic love, affection and sexual desire for more than one person, which makes it possible for people of only ordinary intellect, financial means and attractiveness* to feel loved and desired despite the existence of Mr Depp et al.

      There is plenty more that can be said, and I apologise for any lack of clarity.

      *First the point occurred to me that "marriage" seems to have been implicitly used in this discussion as transitive (i.e. so that if A marries B and B marries C, A is therefore married to C, but this is not the way that all polyamorous relationships work, so there is no reason I can see that polygamous marriage in law would have to be the same (though it needn't rule them out either).
      Second it's odd to use the word 'attractive' in the same absolute sense as 'wealthy' (intelligence is another problematic concept, but perhaps slightly less so), and this oddness is illustrative of the muddle about the way feelings towards others work that seems to make the doomsday scenario possible

  • Paul says:

    Some thoughts from a person living – very happily i might add – in a long time polygamous relationship:

    @hyhybt: 'just work out all the bugs first' is good advice to all relationships. It just doesn't work this way in my experience. You sort out problems as they come along like in every other form of relationship.

    @jim harris: First you 'ignore' one part of the equation only to come to the conclusion the the remainder does not compute. As someone living in a FMM relationship i'm slightly offended by being first ignored and then made responsible for potential civil unrest that whould pale ows.

    (sorry for my bad english – not a native speaker)

    • Hyhybt says:

      I meant specifically the legal bugs. Nothing in our marriage laws depends on the couple being of opposite sexes except the requirement itself, so removing that requirement does not involve adjusting anything else. But throughout, they depend on there being exactly two parties to a marriage. That doesn't mean there cannot ever be more; only that it would be best to sort through what changes that would involve *before* allowing expanded marriages to be done, rather than opening it up first and sorting things out on an individual basis until enough precedents are set.

  • Sam Wren-Lewis says:

    Simon May has a good paper on this entitled, "Liberal Feminism and the Ethics of Polygamy." He argues that polygamy is not intrinsically vicious, but is intrinsically bankrupt. The idea is that the social meaning of polygamy is morally objectionable in that it consists in asymmetric gender stereotypes (and, indeed, may end up having vicious consequences as a result). Worth a read…

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thanks, Sam. I will check out this paper. But polygamy can involve one male and multiple females, or one female and multiple males … so there are not gender stereotypes per se; however, in practice, of course it is the polygyny variant that is most commonly practiced in polygamous societies; polyandry is vanishingly rare.

    • Franklin Veaux says:

      Polygamy does not consist of asymmetric gender stereotypes; polygyny does.

      Polygamy simply means "many marriages." The fact that so many people erroneously equate it with polygyny (many wives) illustrates my point in the comment above; when you rebut that assumption, the moral argument against polygamy falls apart.

      There is no reason why a polygamous society would not permit both polygyny and polyandry, or relationships in which there are multiple women and also multiple men. Polygamy by itself does not have to be asymmetric.

  • Shevmonster says:

    The number of people one can marry is a different question from whom a person can marry. Marriage as an institution is set up for 2 people. Laws related to tax, inheritance, making medical and other decisions for an incompetent spouse, etc etc, are all written for dealing with a marriage of 2 people and would need to be complete re-written to accommodate multiple marriages. Plus there is no issue of fairness: a heterosexual can marry the person of his/her choice. Gays and Lesbian cannot. Saying it is unfair that one person gets to marry the number of people he wants because he only wants to marry one person, but I want to marry two so it is unfair, is a much weaker argument. This is all just a red herring used by hateful bigots to distract people from the real question at hand.

    • Brian Earp says:

      I agree that number and gender are different issues, and that there may be arguments for the law being sensitive to the difference. Thank you for your input.

  • shadow_man says:

    To those of you trying to bring up irrelevant issues, like polygamy, i will show you why the slippery slope fails. First, if you want to press for polygamy, or incest, those are completely separate issues irrelevant to gay marriage. Go advocate for them if that's your concern, prove they are not wrong and prove they are not harmful. We have already proven that homosexuality/gay marriage is not wrong/harmful. But those two things are irrelevant to gay marriage. And gay marriage does not lead to polygamy nor any other type of fetish.

    Gay marriage has been legal in MA for 8 years now, and i don't see anyone pushing for polygamy there. The slippery slope is a myth meant as a scare tactic that's quickly becoming obsolete.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thanks, Shadow_Man … I don't think Santorum's argument is that gay marriage LEADS to polygamy; I think he was saying that the same principle invoked to justify gay marriage equally justifies polygamy … His political motivations notwithstanding, I think he does introduce a meaningful challenge for the sake of argument, and it's been instructive for me (anyway) to consider the various responses people have been giving in this comments section.

  • Scott T says:

    Even if the audience agreed that polygamy is fine, the discussion would have evolved to the next "worst" thing. "what if my happiness is dependent shooting three people today". Obviously a ridiculous statement. The point here seems to be that happiness alone is not enough to justify the action, whatever it is. It needs to be anchored to something outside, beyond just the wants and desires of the single individual. There is no moral reference point from which to judge the decision. Drugs can give you a level of happiness, yet are recognized socially as being a destructive force.

    • Brian Earp says:

      I think the difference about "shooting three people a day" has to do with harm … we can already rule out certain actions as being OK if they involve harm to others, even if they bring some one individual happiness. So a good argument against polygamy would be that it brings harm to others … there are some in this comment section who have suggested that, at the level of society, it may do just this.

  • Jean Kazez says:

    "Polygamy has long been a part our species’ history, and it’s still practiced in some parts of the world where tradition and economic considerations allow. If three people wanted to get married – or four, or five – and each individual was an adult capable of giving full consent, what exactly is the problem?"

    But that's not how it really works. In reality (e.g. in Mormon and Muslim cases), two people get married, and after some time, the guy decides it's time for wife #2. This involves many headaches and heartaches for wife #1, but she is expected to comply, normally because of some religious and/or sexist ideology. That should be assessed separately from what you're describing–3+ people agreeing from the start that they all prefer group marriage to any other arrangement.

    • Julia says:

      How do you know how it really works? For one, Mormon fundamentalism, which is a separate church from the church of LDS or Mormons, accepts polygamy but the Morman church does not. You should watch the TLC show Sister Wives.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Dear Jean — this is a very important distinction. I have updated my post to reflect the difference between those two cases.

      However, I wonder about the case you mention … while it is no doubt troubling, is it immoral? I wonder if I may press a bit further for the sake of getting clear on this. Let's say a husband asks wife #1 for permission to marry wife #2. Let's say it's not her ideal situation, but she consents (perhaps because life would be harder if she didn't, financially or otherwise) – then has a wrong occurred? If the case is one of coercion, I think the answer is yes; but it's hard to tell the line between coercion and consent sometimes. We very often consent to situations that are not ideal … for example, we may take a job that pays enough for us to live on — say, at a fast food restaurant — even though it is not what we'd prefer, out of necessity. Now, if we find that a certain group of people, through discrimination built into the fabric of society, is always in the position to begrudgingly accept fast food jobs because there are no real alternatives, then we could attack the whole fabric of society as being unjust and morally bankrupt … and that sounds like THAT is level at which you are addressing your critique, on the analogy to gender relationships in societies that permit polygamy … Do I have that right?

      Best,
      Brian

    • R Kahendi says:

      Jean, there are polyandrous societies on the Asian continent, if I am not mistaken. I've seen a couple of documentaries on the subject and read articles on it too. Both polyandry and polygyny are very much a part of our species' history. And they seem to be connected to the male: female ratio as well as to the economic reality on the ground. I've written a bit about the subject here: http://fromthoughtsintowords.blogspot.com/2012/02/believe-it-or-not-polygamy-really-isnt.html

  • Eloise says:

    I'm confused why everyone is reading the quotes as only supporting polygamy and ignoring polyandry and other polyamorous combinations. Surprisingly Santorum just says "many people" and sidesteps potential accusations of sexism – unlike most of the commenters.

    While gay marriage and polyamory are, to some extent, separate issues – largely having separate interests groups certainly – surprisingly I think Santorum is asking a reasonable question. He's just not expecting a reasonable answer – he's convinced both are wrong obviously but he's aware his audience seem to think one might be OK and the other not. Between well-informed, consenting adults, why does it matter whether there are 2 or 200 involved? Why does it matter if they are all male, all female, one of each or 100 of each? From an ethical standpoint, as long as there is good information and consent I don't see there's any issue.

    The legal system (which is not solely based on ethics after all) makes a number of distinctions of course. But the legal system here isn't concerned so much about fairness as control of estates and inheritance. Women are legally tied to a single man because this way the man can, supposedly, be sure he's the father of the child (Lady Chatterley's Lover and so on not withstanding). Only one wife is probably a mix of inheritance laws for families with no sons and Christian teaching. There's probably more inertia with assumptions all over the place about only two people in a cohabiting relationship/marriage to resist polyamory but I don't see there's a good ethical reason.

    Although I don't particularly want to marry, as a lesbian monogamist I've got a bias to seeing the first part changed but I've got no issue with seeing the second changed.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thank you for your input Eloise … I think I take your view basically; although I have been given pause by some commentators on this blog who've suggested that allowing marriage between more than two people might indeed have harmful effects on others (see above). I think that point merits serious consideration, and I think it's a line of reasoning that doesn't apply to gay marriage in any way I can tell.

  • Mark says:

    The reason this is so problematic is that nobody is asking the right question. If we have a natural right to choose our associations in pursuit have happiness, why does government have any role at all in our choice? Abolish the idea of civil, government-sponsored marriage, with all the trappings of tax breaks and end of life decisions and the problem goes away.

    If people want an individual or groups of individuals to make end of life decisions or inherit their estates they can do that through conventional contracts. If they want a relationship sanctioned by a higher power they can go to a church. Imposing the government into a relationship is the source of the problems and confusion here.

    • Hyhybt says:

      I think the immigration issue alone is reason enough to keep legal marriage. I'm single, but the thought of being forced to live in a different country than my "other half" makes me shiver.

      Besides, there are legal consequences of being related to someone. Marriage gives a bit of control over that by establishing legal kinship where biology does not. I can see no possible rational way to claim that's a bad thing.

    • Brian Earp says:

      I think this is a fascinating proposal, Mark. In a libertarian society, people would form whatever contractual arrangements they wished, so long as they committed no fraud, and the government would have no business regulating their relationships. I don't have a problem with this off the top of my head — but does anyone know any good arguments for why the government should have any hand whatsoever in marriage? Perhaps it should not.

      • Hyhybt says:

        Well, that depends. Currently, there are benefits to marriage that cannot be contracted any other way. For example (here, at least) marriage means a relatively easy pass through immigration. It seems to me pointlessly cruel to make spouses live in separate countries, so the immigration law would have to be altered *before* doing away with legal marriage.

  • Don Daeges says:

    The notion that polygamy is OK is the point in question here. I rather would pose the question of whether polygamy COULD be OK. The author suggests that polygamy is OK as it " has long been a part our species’ history". I am not an expert on the topic, but my understanding of polygamy historically and as practiced currently is that it is for the most part patriarchal. Men, who have historically dominated cultures, dominate women in a domestic arrangement where the male has a selection of women at his disposal. It's every horny lad's dream to have multiple women in his bed. I don't really see that as an enlightened approach to the advancement of our society or the rights of individuals in that society. Now, CAN we envision polygamy where there are multiple wives and multiple husbands? I don't see it – for a couple of reasons. People are not so "liberated" that they would be comfortable with such an arrangement; I think it flys against our basic instincts. But, mostly I don't see it working because polygamy historically relies on a single very dominant person and multiple submissive partners. Sure there may be a few rare individuals that could live with this new arrangement, but I for the most part expect we would see a constant state of failure in such a polygamous marriage especially in our modern society.

    • Kevin says:

      These marriages would be more unsuccessful than marriages between two people? Hasn't the recent reinvention of marriage as a purely contractual relationship, terminable at will, resulted in the majority of these marriages failing or simply with people opting out? The fact that such marriages would likely fail certainly cannot be a serious objection.

      Kevin

    • Brian Earp says:

      I think the question is, if some group of people wanted to get married, is there anything ethically wrong in this by itself? Whether it would tend to work, or whether many people would actually go for such an arrangement, is a separate issue. After all, you could point out that half of all two-person monogamous marriages fail to work, but I don't expect you'd use that as an argument for making them illegal …

  • Regina Rini says:

    My first response to the Santorum insanity was similar to yours: to wonder if we'd all been a bit too quick to grant the absurdity of Santorum's reductio. But I was firmly convinced by the first argument of the following post (presumably penned by the same Jean Kazez in comments above):

    http://kazez.blogspot.com/2012/01/santorum-on-gay-marriage-and-polygamy.html

    Essentially: There's nothing intrinsically wrong with polygamy. However, in actual practice, in most societies, sexist norms will tend to shape polygamy in ways that are unfair and harmful to women. We could debate whether or not this contingent harm merits legal prohibition on polygamy – but it seems clear that this is not a harm attendant to gay marriage, and therefore that the inferences Santorum attempts are invalid.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thanks very much Regina. By having gone through the comments section here, read the link you included, and giving this all a bit more thought, I think I've come round to the position you hold. Nothing intrinsically wrong; but in actual practice there may be society-wide harms that merit legal prohibition.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Regina — I found this quote from a Simon May paper recommended by Sam in the comments section … it speaks to your point about polygamy in the "abstract" vs. in practice very well:

      Social practices include not only patterns of similar behaviour, but conformity to rules and ideals. These norms might be constitutive of the relationship itself—part of what it means to be married—or background values that specify how it is to be desired, promoted, and respected. No critical assessment of monogamy and polygamy can focus exclusively on their abstract structures, since this would ignore how these relationships reflect morally significant social expectations. Thus, very little about whether the cultural practice of polygamy is inherently objectionable can be learned from some imaginative example of countercultural hipsters who enter an asymmetric marriage as an ironic gesture or a playful exemplification of the contradictions of post-modernity. Such examples say little more about the ethics of polygamy as a cultural tradition than masked balls say about the ethics of veiling. — Simon May, "Liberal Feminism and the Ethics of Polygamy"

  • Anders Sandberg says:

    It is amusing that a Christian conservative brings up polygamy as something negative given all the Biblical examples of holy people in such marriages, not to mention the divine regulations of the practice. If it was bad, presumably the divine regulations would just ban it.

    From a modern Western moral perspective, it doesn't seem that practical (legal or emotional) complexity, nor social side-effects, are strong enough arguments against polygamy. People are free to engage in all sorts of complex activities that might be bad for society (say found cults or political parties with crazy agendas), but their autonomy is regarded as more important than keeping things neat and balanced. I would assume a workable anti-polygamy argument would need to show some significant harm befalling the participants or an outside party.

    One possible argument might be that polygamous marriages lack some property marriages must have to be valid, and hence are not valid marriages. I would imagine this to be the preferred tack of conservatives arguing against them, saying that the numeric duality is indeed an essential aspect of marriage (just as they would say it has to be between a man and a woman). But increasingly secular and pluralist societies are treating marriages as a contract (with religious or social embellishments) – there is no reason except tradition and inertia for it to be dual. The conservative might say that this leads to plenty of invalid "marriages", but outsiders might not care. It might be a bit like how most conservative Christians do not seem to be outraged over the existence of non-Christian married couples, despite their often stated claim that marriage must involve a divine component (which they presumably do not think the non-Christian marriages have).

    • Dave Frame says:

      Anders: agree with most of what you say, but I think you're too quick to dismiss, generically, "essential aspect" objections to innovations in marriage. Institutions like marriage are living institutions, and they evolve as they go (at least they do these days). But this fact alone doesn't license wholesale, freelance innovation. There are core elements that seem to have to be there – at least de jure if not de facto – that secular, pluralist societies still insist on, just as there are regarding the treatment and disposal of dead human bodies. In both cases you could argue "where's the harm in innovation X?" but in doing so you might so distort the institution that the rest of the community no longer recognise it as an instance of "marriage" or, for instance, "decent burial rites".

      Example: you could defend 13-year-olds "marrying" their first boy/girlfriends at school using many of the same arguments seen here – "where's the harm?" "what business is it of yours?" etc, but I think most people would find these unconvincing, because there's a mismatch between important characteristics of the individuals and fundamental properties of the institution. In this case, it's because young people are generically useless at time-consistency, while the institution of marriage is totally based on time-consistency. So young people shouldn't have access to an institution to which they're badly-suited. Giving 13-year-olds rights to marry wouldn't work, and the costs of all those failed marriages would not be completely internalised by those failing couples – it would also spill over to others intending or participating in "marriage". It would act to trivialise the institution, by undermining credibility in a core aspect of marriage.

      I'd argue that it's not *inherently* irrational to defend existing institutions in the face of liberal "no harm" challenges if the challenge challenges a core aspect of the institution itself. In that case, rather than forcing the existing institution to incorporate the innovation, I'd argue that we should – to the extent we think the ambitions of the challengers are legitimate – encourage other or new institutions to step up, rather than torque the foundations of the institution initially under challenge. This is why I think the devil is in the details – people still recognise X&Y's "marriage" as a marriage within a fairly wide space of innovations regarding the vows, but if X&Y replaced "until death us do part" with "until it becomes a hassle" or "until next Wenesday" we'd think maybe marriage wasn't an appropriate institution for this couple, becase it a core part of the commitment was missing. [My position on polygamy remains that if X, Y, Z and (to a considerably lesser extent) the folks around them are cool with X making more than one marriage-like commitment, I don't see, prima facie, a reason to stop them. But the commitment undertaken as a marriage ought to be a marriage-like commitment, not another sort of commitment onto which marriage has been ill-fittingly shoe-horned.]

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thanks for bringing up the irony of the Christian conservative arguing against polygamy on (presumably) biblical grounds, when the forefathers of the Christian conservative's own religion were divinely-sanctioned polygamists. I meant to include that point somewhere in the post, but couldn't see where to fit it in. I also appreciate your point that complexity, bad side-effects, etc., are insufficient, in themselves, to warrant blanket prohibition on some behavior or social arrangement. I think someone would have to show that the bad effects on society would be very large indeed to interfere with the autonomous contract-based associations of individuals … Jean Kazez has made some arguments to that effect here: http://kazez.blogspot.com/2012/01/santorum-on-gay-marriage-and-polygamy.html

    • R Kahendi says:

      Those are great points, Anders. I have, in fact asked myself similar questions about the conservative Christian perspective.

  • UffePuffe says:

    Överskott av män. Kvinnans position. Trassliga lagar och arvstvister, som sprider rikedom för vinden.

    Polygami kan visserligen leda till att en kvinna gifter sig med flera män. Detta har inte i någon relevant utsträckning ägt rum i de samhällen som har haft polygami. Mer troligt är att det kommer vara män som vill visa sig macho, som har flera kvinnor. Kvinnans position devalveras, hennes förhandlingsstyrka försämras och kvinnans position i samhället blir sämre. Att ha ett samhälle som gör att rika machomän kommer föröka sig, medan andra står tillbaka, är förmodligen inte önskvärt.

    Om fler män än kvinnor tar partner av motsatt kön, kommer detta leda till ett överskott av ogifta män. Dessa kommer få en konstig syn på vad kvinnor är och hur samhällen skall organiseras. De kommer starta krig, för att de har för lite att göra. (Samhällen med mansöverskott har historiskt visat sig mer krigiska) De kan å andra sidan klara större förluster av män, vilket kommer att göra att dessa samhällen har mindre att förlora på krig. Krig är inte en flod av odygd, det är ett hav…

    Om man tillåter alla att ha flera partner som de är gifta med kan det bildas långa kedjor som är gifta med olika konsteralationer av varandra. Detta gör att alla typer av skiljsmässor blir oerhört komplicerade. Dagens seriemonogami är tillräckligt tilltrasslad. Människor skall kunna lägga situationer bakom sig, allt för mycket uppmärksamhet går åt åt tvister. Bara en sådan sak som försörjningsbörda av barnen eller rätten att råda över varandras ekonomi blir tvistigt. I slutändan kommer detta gör människor mindre lyckliga.

    Rikedom som accumulerats i en familj, kommer splittras. Detta är inte nödvändigtvis ont, men många kommer förlora ett skäl att investera långsiktigt, nämligen att man gör det för sina barn och barnbarns skull. En del av rikedomarna kommer gå till fruarna, som säkerligen tyr sig till andra män och som sedan tar över delar av företaget som sedan med tiden splittras. Istället skulle ju rikedomen gå i arv, snarare än försvinna iväg. (Implicit antagande; kvinnan är inte huvudägareni systemet) En självägande bondeklass ansågs tidigare vara en av de saker som bygde demokratin. Att samhället sprider sina risker och gracer gör att vi vinner större demokrati.

    Barnen, tänk på barnen som inte får rätt till pappa och mamma, i tillräcklig utsträckning ;-)

    • Theo says:

      Ja visst (men jeg skriver paa engelsk, fordi det er en engelsk blogg, i England). It's a good point, that one the one side, very few men would accept being in a multiple-man relationship with a sole woman, and that, as a consequence, the single-men vs. single-women ratio would disproportionally tend to the former. I doubt that, as you said, this would cause a higher rate of birth of men (if I got the language correctly), but it seems plausible that the social paradigms would slowly change and become norm, possibly leading to a negative change of men's behavior toward women.
      So, we all agree that polygamy is not morally bad. It seems, however, that a country where it's widely practiced would have to develop tools to curb this change of behavior and prevent sexist attitudes.

      "Rikedom som accumulerats i en familj, kommer splittras". Just for the sake of curiosity: a former Egyptian classmate of mine defended polygamy on the grounds that "if a man has enough money to support 8 women, why would it be bad? It's good for the women, and good for the men".
      As we now know, the number of wives is in many places a token of wealth and prestige, meaning that wives are considered prestige goods just as BMWs and high-tech gadgets. I suppose this is what you meant with the change in people's mentality.

      I dare to guess that polygamy will hardly ever be installed in our overloaded, financially-worried society. The majority of the people *want* simplicity in their lives, even if unconsciously, and polygamy is a mess – emotionally, financially and legally -, and very high-maintenance. Simplicity itself is an argument for homossexual marriage and for the distinction between homossexual marriage and polygamy: the basic laws for the former are already there, it's practice does not severely change our social structure. The latter would require a major rework on many levels.

      But I concede: Santorum did well in this one. This just shows us how well prepared his team is, as coming up with this answer seems like the stuff of well trained philosophers.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Translation?

  • Simon Rippon says:

    I think you're asking exactly the right question, Brian, but for the wrong reason. I'm sorry to say it, but Santorum has got you into a sticky mess.

    Maybe polyamorous marriages do have bad features. Suppose we identify some, like the ones Jean points out – e.g. discrimination in practice against women, difficulty in a third person joining an existing relationship – call these bad features X, Y, Z. Suppose these features make permitting polyamorous marriages obviously wrong. Then it might seem like Santorum's slippery slope argument against gay marriage is successful. But it isn't – because as soon as we've identified the bad features of polyamoruse marriages X, Y, Z, we can now perfectly well block the slippery slope argument – unless the features X, Y, Z equally occur in gay marriages (in which case, the slippery slope argument would be otiose). We can say "Everyone should habe a right to marry anyone else, so long as marriages of that kind don't have bad features X, Y, Z." We've now got a principled line on which to draw a distinction between gay marriages and these other structures.

    The rhetorical force of Santorum's argument precisely depends on his listeners not thinking about the particular features (if any) that make permitting polygamy/polyandry/human-animal marriages wrong. The fact that it keeps coming back like some demented zombie is one indication that we need to teach philosophy and critical thinking in schools.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Hi Simon — I agree with you that there are different ways to block a reductio argument. One way is to say that Santorum has stated the proposed principle incorrectly; that it's not fully-stated unless it carries the addendum "unless X Y Z"; another way would be to say that the principle in its original formulation doesn't actually entail acceptance of polygamy; and a third way would be to deny that the acceptance of polygamy is absurd and therefore invalidates its spawning principle. I'm not actually taking a stand on the third way, I'm just suggesting that *even if we grant Santorum's argument that far* — are we really stuck with an absurd conclusion? Some of Jean's points suggest to me that perhaps, indeed, we are — if not in principle, than in any conceivable practice. I simply wanted to raise the question; not deny that there are other ways to respond to Santorum!

  • Tom Cooney says:

    This is a great article. There is nothing wrong with polygamy. You can't force people to abide by an outdated model of marriage, one man, one woman. As a Christian, I don't understand why so many others of my faith don't understand the origins of our own Bible. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon and many other prophets from the Bible practiced polygamy, as commanded by God, whose right to reign it is. This excludes the fact that polygamy has been practiced by Buddhist, Hinduism, Judaic, and Islamic practicioners for millenia.

    10, 20, 30 years from now, what other possible solution to rampant abortion, infidelity, bastardry, etc. would be viable? True liberty demands freedom of choice. Consenting adults should be allowed to marry whom they choose.

    Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy for about 50 years during the 1800s and “officially ceased the practice of such marriages after the Manifesto1 was issued by President Woodruff in 1890.”2 After signing the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act3 in 1862 Abraham Lincoln “reportedly compared the Mormon Church to a log he had encountered as a farmer” and said that the occasional log was “‘too hard to split, too wet to burn and too heavy to move, so we plow around it. That's what I intend to do with the Mormons. You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone, I will let him alone.’"4 In Reynolds v. U.S., 98 U.S. 145 (1878) ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict prohibiting polygamy, intruded not only into the LDS right to the free exercise of religion, but forbad the same right of marital practice for the Buddhist (Aiken, p.74), Hinduism,5 Judaic,6 and Islamic religions as well.7
    1. http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/od/1?lang=eng
    2. http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=9887ec6f164b2110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=bbd508f54922d010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD
    3. 37th United States Congress, Sess. 2., ch. 126, 12 Stat. 501
    4. Firmage, Edwin Brown; Mangrum, Richard Collin (2001), Zion in the courts, University of Illinois Press, p. 139, ISBN 0252069803, http://books.google.com/?id=9AimifP2a-4C
    5. Gallichan, Walter M. “Women Under Polygamy.” Dodd, Mead. pg. 92
    6. Genesis 16:1–3; 29:23–30; 30:4, 9; Exodus 21:10, Deuteronomy 21:15-17, and 17:17; Judges 8:30; 1 Samuel 1:1–2; KJV of the Bible and Gallichan, p.43-45
    7. Gallichan, p.31, Khadduri. Majid. Marriage in Islamic Law: The Modernist Viewpoints. The American Journal of Comparative Law. 26. 2:213-218. Spring, 1978, and Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 2, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), p. 400

  • Khalid Jan says:

    Brian: polygamy is a broad and a confusing term. If the term is broken down into polygyny, polyandry, same sex unions and so on, then perhaps it would be somewhat directional in dealing with the subject matter.

  • Emes Lyaakov says:

    Marriage is a relationship between the parties. For members of certain religions and faiths, it is a matter which involves G-d and his rules. It is really none of the government's business at all. It is only in "modern" times that the government has gotten involved in the marriage license business, and it may be time for them to get out of it.

    Let anyone marry whomever (s)he wants and let it be their private business, with all financial and property issues to be established by contract drawn with mutual consent.

    It then does not have to be part of the political debate.

  • Phillip says:

    I have been in a polygamous relationship for 10+ years. I am not LDS or Muslim. Just evangelical Christian — I state this only to get the religious objections out of the way. My wife invited her best friend into our family. I was not happy at first as I thought she was trying to get rid of me. It is their choice and not me flexing testosterone authority.

    I get annoyed at the stupidity of some politicians arguments. First — homosexuality is not a choice (if the professionals are to be believed — I do not know I am not homosexual). Second — polygamy is not just about choice either, there are health, economic, biologic reasons for seeking polygamous relationships. Third — What evidence suggests homosexual marriage will increase heterosexual marriage? After all, isn't that what Santorum was referring to — a man and two or more wives? Not that the other way around matters one iota to me, could not care less what any other consenting adult does. I find it ironic in a way that the political party that claims they stand for "the family" is so against the ultra family. I have two wives, 9 children (two biologically, 4 my 2nd wife brought to the relationship and one is adopted — the other two have fur and bark). We think of ourselves as a family in the biggest sense of the description. The ultra family.

    If we look at the slippery slope idea — in my opinion, what is really being stated, is "if I accept disgusting behavior X, then it will be a short time before I have to accept disgusting behavior Y."

    In my case, I have only one legal marriage. No one can stop me from loving another person ( I can not even stop myself), and aside from some of the legal issues, there is nothing I can not do or have married legally or not married at all. You can not name (aside from the legal issues) any behavior that is restricted to polygamy. I do not need a marriage license to have sex with one or more women. I do not need a marriage license to share my house, car, food, income, love, time, ???? There is nothing anyone can stop or permit, other than legal contractual issues. So when it comes down to that, you have to ask — "is there anything you will find in a polygamous relationship that you can find nowhere else?" I have not found anything yet. I read the Canadian court opinion, and I had an answer for every item. The facts are that there is no objection to polygamy, that does not have a direct existence in single (unmarried), monogamous lifestyles. It takes some time to come to the conclusions I have, but I have not found one rebuttal yet. I still can not find anything or way, that decriminalizing polygamy, will change in our society.

    I apologize for the jumbled notes. If I had more time to think and craft a better response, I would.

    I want to thank you for making this space available, and affording me the opportunity to express my opinions. Rarely anymore does one find the well thought out discussions I have witnessed above. I am happy to find intelligent individuals still exist. Thank you.
    Phillip

  • Hyhybt says:

    "homosexuality is not a choice (if the professionals are to be believed — I do not know I am not homosexual)"

    You certainly know more about polygamy that I ever would, but this one point… most straight people *can* know fairly easily simply by trying as hard as they can to find when they chose to be heterosexual :)

    (Of course, that is *be* heterosexual. The question has nothing to do even with whether you have sex, much less with whom.)

  • The Rev. John W Price says:

    The current concept of traditional marriage is far more than 200 years old. In the Anglican Communion, we have in our archives the Book of Common Prayer dating back to 1549 with the current concept of marriage in the Service of Holy Matrimony. That was the first English Book of Common Prayer, and I don't think they thought it up then. What are you talking about?

  • Peter Wicks says:

    The reason Santorum's argument is not a reductio ad absurdum is that there is nothing particularly absurd about polygamy, as Phillip so vividly reports. Santorum got the students in a pickle because polygamy is, unlike gay marriage, still a taboo subject, even among liberals.

  • Joe Darger says:

    Polygamy is not inherently wrong. As a polygamous male with three wives I can attest to the many benefits that it has brought me and my family. We have written a book, Love Times Three, as well as regularly blog about such issues. The "slippery slope" argument is ridiculous. Polygamy is as old as marriage, and is found in most societies, outside of the "Western Christian" culture. It also is not going to go away. There is nothing inherently immoral about it, and in fact it could be argued that matches more how we are created.

  • Fred Rhodes says:

    I thought marriage was supposed to be about making a good home for your children. Marriage should be outlawed for heterosexuals and homosexuals, unless they are planning to raise a family. When heterosexuals get married just for ownership of each others property and not for reproduction, they have to practice cancer causing birth control and have abortions to prevent what reproductive sex is all about.
    Polygamy would work better if when a mother has more than one husband, bisexual of course. to avoid any unnecessary jealousy, and having all the extra income from multiple husbands would benefit the children. Traditional marriage is a man made concept invented after man remade god in his own image. Before that, women lived in protective harems and chose which males would father their children. They would say "Let Us make a man in Our own image". Now it's backwards.

  • Melodyan says:

    As a woman in a MFF poly relationship, I have a few things to add from this point of view. We do have children, each "wife" (since it is illegal for us to be married) has one child. Each child knows that they are loved. I was the one who went to my man and said I wanted a "wife". Personally, I am bi-sexual. We sat down and made rules that we as a couple wanted to follow. We dated and found a woman who shared the same inclinations as I do.
    Our oldest told us about how most of the kids in the kindergarten class had only one mommy. He went on to say that he felt bad for all those kids because they didn't have another mommy to love them. I don't think our kids are badly adjusted or educationally impaired. Our oldest has top marks in his class. Socially, they have a lot of friends and play sports.
    We are not below poverty as we have 3 full-time incomes so I don't see how our relationship is detrimental to the economy. If anything we spend more because we have a large family.
    So I feel less secure or depressed? No. I feel loved and know there are two people I can trust with anything and know that they will be there if I need anything emotionally. They tell me I am beautiful and sexy where the rest of the world might not. I have better self-esteem not then I did in High school so many years ago.

    My answer to the politician would be why not? My relationship does not effect anyone else but those who are involved. No one is harmed by our lifestyle and we are all very happy and content. Yes, we have problems, but so does every relationship. Is it harder? I don't think so, I think it is harder for only 2 person relationships. But, that is me.

  • R Kahendi says:

    It seems to me that if people are going to criticize polygamous marriage, they might as well criticize all forms of marriage. Polygamy may institutionalize inequality, but then so does monogamous marriage. For proof, simply look at the lives of European Christian women over the centuries. I do not want to idealize polygamy, but I would like to point out that in some sub-Saharan societies, women had greater decision-making capability within the context of their polygamous marriages than European women in monogamous marriages did during the same time periods.

    Anyway, I am glad that there is a space here for wide-ranging debate on the subject. I am monogamous myself, but find it annoying listening to the one-dimensional discussions on polygamy that I have encountered on other forums. I've written a brief entry on the subject on my blog: http://fromthoughtsintowords.blogspot.com/2012/02/believe-it-or-not-polygamy-really-isnt.html

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